For the final time in 2018, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series will break out the restrictor plates when it returns to Talladega Superspeedway for this weekend’s 1000Bulbs.com 500. Thanks to the restrictor plates, NASCAR’s largest track is also one of its most chaotic, and Sunday’s race is the biggest hurdle remaining on the schedule for both the championship hopefuls and fantasy owners.
Between the pack racing and all the wrecks, races at Talladega are tough to predict. It is basically a guarantee that at least a few big names are going to finish at the back of the pack, and there is also a good chance that several surprise names will pop up in the Top 10.
From a fantasy standpoint, this race will cause anyone atop the standings to lose sleep. On the flip side, it is a golden opportunity for everyone else to gain a lot of a ground in one race. Since the race is likely to be chaotic anyway, I like to construct my lineups based on my position in the standings.
If you have a bunch of ground to gain, feel free to go with a lineup full of sleepers. In the fall race at Talladega last year, Trevor Bayne and Aric Almirola picked up Top 5s, and Gray Gaulding and David Ragan finished in the Top 10. In that same race, only 14 cars were still running at the finish, so an unconventional lineup can still yield great results.
Fantasy NASCAR Rankings
Joey Logano, #22 Shell-Pennzoil, Team Penske
Logano has emerged as one of the most dependable options at the plate tracks, and over the last 10 races, his six Top 10s are the most of his driver. Logano also has three straight Top 5s in the last four plate races, including a win at Talladega in April. He is a great headliner for any fantasy lineup this weekend.
Brad Keselowski, #2 Miller Lite/Discount Tires, Team Penske
He has crashed out of the first three plate races this season, but Keselowski always has one of the cars to beat at the superspeedways. He is the defending winner of this race, and of his series-leading six wins at plate tracks, five have come at Talladega. Keselowski has also led a series-best 356 laps over the last 10 plate races, making him one of the few dependable sources of dominator points this weekend.
Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., #17 Fastenal/Fifth Third Bank, Roush Fenway Racing
Stenhouse has drawn the ire of his competitors because of his aggressive style at the plate tracks, but there is no denying that he has been an elite option at the superspeedways recently. In fact, no driver has scored more points over the last 10 plate races, and his five Top 5s in that span are also tied for the most. He should be a popular Group B option in the Driver Group game and non-playoff option in Fantasy Live.
Denny Hamlin, #11 FedEx, Joe Gibbs Racing
Hamlin is another driver that always seems to be up front at the restrictor-plate tracks. In fact, he has led laps in eight of the last 10 plate races, leading laps in all five starts at Talladega in that span. Hamlin also ranks sixth in driver points scored over those same 10 races, so he finishes up front a lot, too. He should be an excellent non-playoff option at Fantasy Live this weekend.
Kevin Harvick, #4 Jimmy Johns/Busch Beer, Stewart-Haas Racing
He owns wins at both Daytona and Talladega, but Harvick has been much more consistent at the latter. He has cracked the Top 15 in eight of the last 10 races here, leading 12 laps and finishing fourth back in the spring. I don’t think you need to rely on the Big 3 this weekend, but Harvick is my favorite of the trio if you want some exposure.
Aric Almirola, #10 Smithfield Foods, Stewart-Haas Racing
Another potential win slipped away last weekend, but on the plus side, Almirola has been excellent at the plate tracks for a while now. He has cracked the Top 15 in seven of the last eight restrictor-plate races, finishing eighth or better in all four starts at Talladega during that stretch. Almirola is worth considering in all formats this weekend.
Ryan Newman, #31 Caterpillar, Richard Childress Racing
Playing the hot hand at a chaotic track like Talladega isn’t a bad strategy, and few drivers have been better than Newman at the plate tracks lately. He has reeled off five straight Top 10s at the plate tracks, and for DFS players, he has gained at least nine spots in three of those starts and at least 17 spots twice.